From the architect. All the client initially asked for was a temporary, off-the-shelf solution to an acute lack of space. But sometimes the least promising of circumstances can give rise to architecture that is truly compelling, from both a financial and a design perspective. At least that’s what Züst Gübeli Gambetti thought upon reading the ETH Zurich’s competition brief. To the young firm, the proposed program seemed to be a quick fix, the opposite of a sustainable solution. Yet they were drawn to the idea of contributing their own progressive architectural statement to the Hönggerberg—Zurich’s Mt. Olympus of architecture. Now their winning proposal stands on that very site, three times as large and three times as solid as the container village original- ly anticipated by the client. Moreover, for its size, it is the most cost- effective structure ever built by the university.
With its elongated shape and stepped massing, the iconic HCP building marks the start of the Science City campus for all who approach from downtown. In deference (though not subordination) to its architectural older brother, the adjacent HCI chemistry complex, the new arrival lies low and hugs the ground. Züst Gübeli Gambetti make clever use of the site’s topography, developing a cross section for the 200-metre long project that requires only a single lift to serve its various floors. As an added bonus, this sectional solution generates multi- functional covered spaces and terraces. Flanked on the one side by the towering HCI building and on the other by expansive views, these out- door areas attain a careful equilibrium between enclosure and openness.
In its entirety, the building represents an intelligent synergy of economic and architectural considerations. On the outside, the wrap around chequerboard façade accentuates the balanced volume’s sculptural qualities while ensuring flexibility of use with its modular, repeat- ing open and closed elements. On the inside, the radically horizontal layout encourages communication and allows for efficient floor plans. Organizational efficiency is complemented by operational efficiency: the building taps into the campus’ ‘anergy grid’, an innovative system for harvesting, storing and distributing low-grade energy, and relies on a common-sense low-tech building services strategy for carbon-neutral energy delivery and ease of maintenance.